Just think of it: a family vacation in which everything goes right, the sun always shines and the kids never spill.
OK, enough fantasy. In the real world, family vacations have the potential to create as much (or more) stress than our daily lives. But there are ways to take some of the stress out of travel.
1. Don’t rely on your memory. Use that camera in your cell phone to take a picture of your parking spot number. That way you won’t have to look for an elusive slip of paper when you return home three days from now.
2. Have a backup. Scan copies of your travel documents–passports, itineraries, confirmation numbers–and email them to yourself. That way, everything you need is as close as the nearest Internet connection or your Web-enabled phone.
3. Think small. Don’t bring the large size shampoo bottle. Fill (and keeping refilling) small bottles. Visit the cosmetic counter at your local department store and stock up on samples. It will lighten your load and lessen the stress of worrying about how to pack the 32-ounce bottle of conditioner.
4. Bring plastic–the Ziploc kind. You don’t want the nasty surprise of opening your suitcase at the hotel only to find the shampoo bottle burst and ran all over the clothes you packed for the week. Put everything that might leak into a plastic bag and bring extra bags in larger sizes. They’ll come in handy for that bottle of tequila you bought in Mexico or the wet bathing suits from the kids who had to have one last dip in the hotel pool before piling into the car for the long ride home.
5. Rent a condo. These days, vacation rental condos with a kitchen and separate bedrooms are springing up everywhere. They’re a great option for families. Even if the nightly rate is a little more than a hotel (and that isn’t always the case), you could offset the expense by eating several meals in. Since kids nearly always get up hungry, it can save a lot of stress in addition to cash if the box of cereal is on the counter and the gallon of milk in the fridge. And there’s the added benefit of a separate bedroom for parents, which is a whole different kind of stress reliever.
Cindy Richards is a veteran travel writer and the editor of TravelingMom.com, a Web site for moms who travel with and without their kids.